Minnesota Twins

Joe Mauer letting his guard down felt like goodbye on Sunday

If there was any doubt he’ll retire, Joe Mauer seemed to put it to bed on Sunday.

Coming from the capital of our Twin Cities here in Minnesota, a city that has now spawned three Hall of Famers (including the current Twins manager), Joe Mauer was latched onto as “one of us.” There was a legitimate debate over who the Twins should take No. 1 overall in the 2001 MLB draft, but the multi-sport high school star was the clear choice over Mark Prior and it was proven over time.

Mauer’s eight-year, $184 million contract became a lightning rod for Twins’ fans as the team struggled. But’s it easy to forget the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were both in the market for a catcher around the same time he signed the deal, and those same fans would have lamented not paying him if either of those teams had signed him.

The Twins also did Mauer no favors with a diagnosis of “bilateral leg weakness” early in the 2011 season, when his knee was simply still sore after offseason surgery. A search of that term on WebMD , which I did at the time, brings some scary words into play. Mauer could have spoken publicly on the matter to dispel those concerns, and criticize how the team depicted his issue, but that has never been his way.

A move away from catcher to first base due to a concussion late in the 2013 season further drew ire from Twins’ fans, as a natural decline in production came with it. As the team failed to find a suitable replacement, some fans even called for Mauer to dam the torpedoes regarding his long-term health and move back behind the plate.

Mauer hinted at retirement recently, with Sunday’s regular season finale against the Chicago White Sox to serve as the final game of a 15-year career spent entirely with the Twins. Returning for one more season, mostly likely with the Twins or no one, would probably be on Mauer to decide.

But Sunday felt like goodbye, and it was a worthy finale.

In what will likely be his final at-bat, Mauer fittingly legged out a double to left field.

That Mauer-esque double, done with a smile on his face as he legged it out, would have been just fine as a final moment. But the top of the ninth inning topped it, even though we could have done without Bert Blyleven’s unnecessary words as the analyst on the Fox Sports North telecast.

Mauer dusted off the tools of ignorance and stepped back behind the plate for one pitch from reliever Matt Belisle. The idea to do it apparently came from his dad, who could only muster up the courage to say it to Mauer’s wife, rather than his son directly.

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Mauer owns the Twins’ record for most times reaching base (3,087), and his career slash-line (.306/.388/.439) with three batting titles as a catcher will put him on Hall of Fame ballots once he’s eligible. But after all the public criticism, mostly short-sighted and unworthy, everything else was left aside as Mauer let his guard down to embrace a moment in the sun.

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